Next step in Littlefield recall up to Hamilton County Election Commission

Next step in Littlefield recall up to Hamilton County Election Commission

November 6th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

ELECTION COMMISSIONERS


• Michael Walden, chairman

• Jerry Summers

• James Anderson

• Tommy Crangle

• Ruth Braly

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

The attorney for Mayor Ron Littlefield said Friday the Hamilton County Election Commission has to wait 60 days before making any decision on a recall and any action it takes before then could result in a lawsuit.

"It's our opinion the election commission [should] not take any action," said Hal North, Littlefield's attorney.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals last week overturned a Hamilton County Circuit Court judge's ruling that halted the recall effort last year. The court said Judge Jeff Hollinsworth should not have stopped the election commission from having a chance to vote whether to certify recall petitions.

North said Littlefield has 60 days to decide whether to seek review from the Tennessee Supreme Court. He said it would be "premature" for the election commission to act before then.

Chris Clem, attorney for the election commission, said commissioners could discuss the ruling when they meet at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

"It's up to them what action they would take," he said.

The recall started last year with a petition campaign by Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party.

The groups gathered more than 15,000 signatures and the election commission validated more than 9,000 of them. That would be enough to trigger a recall under the City Charter.

Before election commissioners could certify the petitions, Littlefield filed suit. He claimed the recall was regulated by state law, which required 14,854 valid signatures. Hollinsworth ruled for Littlefield in October 2010 and halted the effort.

Election commissioner and local attorney Jerry Summers said Friday the commission needs to consider the 60-day appeal time and that talk needs to be toned down on recall certifications.

"All these comments are premature," he said.

Other commissioners could not be reached for comment Friday.

Frank Pinchak, attorney for Citizens to Recall Littlefield, did not return phone calls.

A Tangled Web

Election commissioners will have a list of issues to talk about Wednesday and thereafter.

One is how many of the recall petitions are valid.

More than 9,600 signatures were validated, but half did not have addresses as is required by state law, Clem said.

He said commissioners voted last year to follow the City Charter, but they could backtrack and follow state law.

"They can always revisit it," he said.

That's because the appeals court said Hollinsworth should not have stopped the election, but not that his opinion was wrong, Clem said. Hollinsworth's opinion was that state law trumped the City Charter.

Summers said that needs to be considered, despite the commission's previous decision to abide by the City Charter.

"We've had a decision from a trial judge to the contrary," he said.

The commission also voted last year to use the charter's two-step process for recall instead of the state's three-step process.

Under the charter, once the commission votes to certify the petitions, the mayor instantly is recalled and a mayoral election would be held in the next election. That would be March 6, 2012.

The state process first asks voters whether the mayor should be recalled, then requires a separate election to decide the issue.

North said the appeals court opinion raised more questions than it answered.

"It didn't resolve any of the underlying issues," North said. "It left that up to another day and the question is, how do we get to that other day?"

Summers said he saw no direction from the appeals court on how to proceed. Everything is left up to the commission, he said.

"I think there's going to be litigation," he said. "The opinion's not clear."